• Motherhood Inspires Writer to Become an RN Who Delivers Compassionate Care 

    By Rachael Zimlich

    When I was a child, I wanted to be a “baby nurse.” When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then high school science happened—and I hated it.

    I knew I wanted to help make the world a better place, but I wasn’t sure how. As I progressed through school, another thing became clear. I could write. My teachers always remarked about my ability to tell a story or make a complicated subject clear—even when I had no idea what it was I was writing about.

    I’ll be a writer, I thought. I was eager to be the voice of the little guy and right the wrongs of the world. I excelled through my undergrad and studied under a prominent investigative journalist, working for a time for the Innocence Institute in an effort to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. I spent the next several years after graduation talking to mayors, covering trials, listening to grieving mothers, taking photos at elementary school events, meeting a former president, and more for a local newspaper chain—and I loved it. I rose through the ranks quickly, and eventually made the move to trade publications. I wrote about environmental issues and waste management for awhile, eventually moving into medical publications; first, veterinary medicine, then primary care and managed care.

    I knew what I was doing was important: Updating medical professionals with the things they needed to know about in their profession, especially the ever-changing healthcare laws. But was I really making a difference?

    As I started a family, my priorities changed. I thought less about my career and more about what I was doing with my life. When I was pregnant with my second son, I thought about what the next several years would hold for our family. I knew I couldn't just stay home with my children and not have something of my own to do, but I just couldn’t keep kissing my babies goodbye each morning to let them be raised by someone else. I came home after each long day of work, picking them up from daycare, rushing to make dinner, and maybe catching a few minutes of time together wondering what I was accomplishing all day. Was the job I was doing worth the time away from them?

    I started to think about my childhood ambitions. I had some challenges around the birth of my first son, as well as a complicated appendectomy. I did—and didn’t—have comforting healthcare providers to help me along the way. These experiences made me realize how important compassion is.

    At some point in our lives, we all will need someone to take care of us when we are at our most vulnerable. Having someone at your side that helps you understand it, or at the very least doesn’t make you feel worse for it, is so critical to the healing process.

    In my years of covering tragedy and conflict as a writer, I always felt good about telling a story—but still somewhat helpless. I wanted to be part of the solution, not just a bystander. Toward the end of my second pregnancy, this desire only got stronger.

    Understanding that a career change with two young children, not a lot of money, and surging hormones would not be the best thing to do on a whim, I pushed the thoughts aside to think about after my son was born.

    As my maternity leave dwindled, I dreaded leaving my children again to fill my days in a career that I loved but that had become unfulfilling on a deeper level. I told my husband that I wanted to go back to school and stay home with our sons. I could maybe do some writing from home, too. We pored over our budget and thought about it. He was supportive and, as a teacher, understood my desire to help others in a more direct way.

    “Why don’t you try going back to work for awhile before you make your decision,” he wisely suggested.

    But a month after I returned from my maternity leave, I submitted by resignation and began the next phase of my life—stay-at-home mom of two, freelance writer … and nursing student.

    I started to take my anatomy and physiology courses and microbiology—a decade after completing my first bachelor's degree. I questioned my decision at times, especially when I saw the schedule for my first semester of the nursing curriculum: hours of lecture, lab, and clinicals, plus a few hundred pages of reading each week. It was overwhelming, to say the least. Especially when you add in deadlines for writing assignments, preschool helper days, and children who, throughout my time in nursing school ranged in age from newborn and 2 years old to 3 and 5 years old—oh, and we sold our house and built a new one during my first year of school, too.

    Despite all of the craziness, what I remember most from nursing school is my first patient, a woman who was dying too soon because of a tragic event in her youth. No one could understand her; they said she couldn’t speak. No one had the time to just sit at her bedside. But I did. I bathed her. I spoke to her. I slowly fed her and put moisturizer on her cracked lips. I held her hand. After two weeks of caring for her, she mumbled to me that I did a good job. She, too, had worked in health care. She thanked me. A few days later, she died.

    It’s sad to see anyone lose this battle, but for her, it was a blessing. I felt as though I helped make her last days a little bit easier.

    There were many more times like that in my time as a nursing student and later in the job I took as a nursing assistant. I have talked to people with mental illness who will never be “better.” I have talked to a man who had just found out he was dying and wondered if there was a God. I helped bring a baby into the world.

    When I leave my family now and when I come home, I know it was for something life-changing. My children know I’m leaving them to help other people, and they are proud of it, and I hope it will help them learn the joy of aiding others.

    I have two exams left, and then I’m done with nursing school. I’ve been told by some people that I’m crazy for going back to school. I had a great job with a good future. I have young children. Nursing is HARD. What was I thinking?

    I know there will be times when I will miss things with my family, my feet will ache, my back will hurt, and I may need new knees at some point. It won’t all be wonderful, but it will be important: To know what it is to be a patient and be scared, to know what few minutes of genuine caring can do for someone alone and in pain, to know the value of helping someone who is vulnerable regain some dignity.

    It’s easy for all of us to miss this important point. Population medicine is the movement now, and the focus is on the big picture, to maximize and stretch each dollar and asset. To focus on trends. But in doing that, it’s too easy to forget the individual patient and to realize that each number in a report you’re reading is a person who is hurting, scared, and needs help.

    I am thankful for all I’ve learned as a healthcare writer. I have interviewed some of the most important and influential people in healthcare and learned a lot from them. But I will never forget how it felt to be the patient, to help my first patient die, or to hand that newborn baby to its mother for the first time. This is what I was meant to do.

    Rachael Zimlich is a healthcare writer from Cleveland who is working on obtaining her R.N.

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